An SD card isn't just a dumb chunk of memory; it's a dumb chunk of memory with a built-in brain, a microcontroller. And at this year's Chaos Computer Congress, enterprising hackers showed off exactly what those brains can be used for: cheap hardware for makers or malware machines for malcontents.
The reason SD cards have microcontrollers in the first place is because it's cheaper than producing reliable memory. Instead of testing each card to make sure it's a flawless bit of hardware (it never is), SD card manufacturers just slap on a cheap microcontroller that can come up with workarounds for dead sectors and other hardware issues on the fly. This all gets set up at the factory, and average users never have to know a thing about it.
But that's where the modification comes in. As hackers bunnie and xobs discovered, some of cards' chip firmware isn't locked down particularly well, leaving it completely open to modification. On the good side, that means relatively cheap microcontrollers for anyone who bothers to hack them. On the dark side, that means SD cards that can perform their own man-in-the-middle attacks and steal data on the sly with built-in malware. Or counterfeit SD cards that look like they're waaaay bigger than they are, like the mythical never-ending hard drive.
The details of exactly how you mess with this stuff are available over on bunnie's blog, but the next time you plug in an SD card, just remember that it's actually a tiny computer of its own. And though it's probably not doing anything especially cool, or out to screw you over, it certainly has the potential to do either
How about giving a nerdy Doctor Who fan the ultimate gift this year: hacked access to a BBC server. That was the deal apparently on offer on some "underground" internet sites on Christmas Day, after a hacker allegedly gained access to a BBC server and tried to sell on his access method.
According to Reuters, the hacker had access to some part of the BBC's network for around three days, with the BBC apparently not noticing or being able to block his access until the Saturday after Christmas Day. US security firm Hold Security claims a notorious cracker known as either "HASH" or "Rev0lver" was spotted trying to sell access to the BBC site around known hacker haunts, but it's unknown whether anyone bought their way in or if the FTP portal allegedly breached actually had anything of use within.
Bad news for New York Times readers, great news for anyone who's sick of rolling their eyes at Apple's unbearably twee ad campaigns: Arem Duplessis, the Design Director at the NYT Magazine, is leaving his post to become Creative Director at Apple.
You may not have heard of Duplessis, but you've almost certainly seen his work. He gave the NYT Mag its distinctive graphic voice, including its cover art and instantly recognizable typography, which has played a huge part in establishing the magazine as a Sunday highlight. Once you saw a cover, you couldn't forget the content inside: A look back at the past decade of Sunday magazines reveals an incredible range and depth of work—from brilliant illustrations (see: 2009's Infrastructure cover above, or Adrian Tomine's contribution from 2008) to the magazine's instantly recognizable photography, immortalizing everyone from James Turrell to workers in North Dakota's oil boom.
UnBeige reports that Duplessis will start his new gig in Cupertino this February. It's sad news for the magazine, but exciting for Apple, whose creative strategy has been lacking of late, thanks to ads that are either saccharine or just plain boring. We're looking forward to seeing Duplessis scrub through the thick layer of visual morass currently blanketing Apple's graphic identity.
Though they may not be the first set of glow-in-the-dark critters born for the sake of science, the newly bioluminescent pigs of the South China Agriculture University aren't any less incredible—or for that matter, adorable. Wilbur, eat your heart out.
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And as far as the pigs are concerned, looking good is pretty much their entire job. Just like the rave-ready rabbits that came before them, the pigs were injected with jellyfish DNA when they were tiny embryos for the sole purpose of seeing whether or not the glow factor would take. Because now that we've seen that both rabbit and pig embryos hold the potential for genetic manipulation, any future human application is looking far more likely.
According to Dr. Stefan Moisyadi, a veteran bioscientist with the Institute for Biogenesis Research:
It's just a marker to show that we can take a gene that was not originally present in the animal and now exists in it. The green is only a marker to show that it's working easily.
While the pigs themselves may not be benefitting in any practical way from their unique glow, the research still has the potential to be highly beneficial—at least for humans. Because we now know it's possible to manipulate biological development by introducing genes at an embryonic level, this could pave the way for using genetic engineering to create cheaper and more efficient medicines. Dr. Moisyadi explains:
[For] patients who suffer from hemophilia and they need the blood-clotting enzymes in their blood, we can make those enzymes a lot cheaper in animals rather than a factory that will cost millions of dollars to build.
That sort of practical application is still quite a ways off, though. It seems like we'll be sticking to glowing animals for the foreseeable future; the same team that created the glowing bunnies is set to announce their results with their work on fluorescent glowing sheep early in 2014. As for whether or not these genetically engineered pigs would mean black light bacon on our breakfast tables, let's hope for the pig's sake we never find out.